I brought up Jurgen Habermas recently as an aside and thought I would revisit that august personage. I was very impressed. The old warrior (82) who has probably been the secular’s west’s most profound and formidable champion has evened out quite a bit. No doubt age had something to do with it. He was the secular postmodernists’ first and most important critic. He knew what they were saying and realized the importance of their critique while lesser lights were dismissing it out of hand under the rhetorical flourish that goes something like, “You know what’s stupid? Everything I don’t understand.” As to his critique, well, the jury is still out as noted by this review and the matter of the enlightenment’s 20th century legacy.
“The central tenets of the ‘project of modernity’ are the ideals of rationality and progress which Habermas (1981) attempts to formalise as practical achievements. Yet these ideals must be put into a darker context, a context expressed by James Joyce’s remark that “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” As the predecessors at the Frankfurt school in 1949 saw, and as Adorno and Horkheimer and Zygmunt Bauman (1989) powerfully narrate, the Holocaust provides a devastating critique of enlightenment legacy and thought and highlights the danger of slipping into a barbarism anticipated by Nietzchean nightmares. For example, on one level, Hitler’s regime in Germany merely refined and perfected 19th century techniques of social discipline. But, on yet another level, Hitler’s regime was a deliberate throwback to an archaic ‘society of blood’, a society of savagery and a society with a lust for domination, control and power; a society which raises further disturbing questions about the enlightenment project.”
How nice to see however, that as time went on Habermas seems to have made some peace with both postmodernists and Christians. While Wikipedia is no authority, I have yet to see these noted points disputed in more formal authoritative sites and believe them to be fairly accurate. Here are some interesting notations on his journey.
Habermas and Jacques Derrida engaged in a series of disputes beginning in the 1980s and culminating in a mutual understanding and friendship in the late 1990s that lasted until Derrida died in 2004. They originally came in contact when Habermas invited Derrida to speak at The University of Frankfurt in 1984. The next year Habermas published “Beyond a Temporalized Philosophy of Origins: Derrida” in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity in which he described Derrida’s method as being unable to provide a foundation for social critique. Derrida, citing Habermas as an example, remarked that, “those who have accused me of reducing philosophy to literature or logic to rhetoric … have visibly and carefully avoided reading me”. After Derrida’s final rebuttal in 1989 the two philosophers didn’t continue, but, as Derrida described it, groups in the academy “conducted a kind of ‘war’, in which we ourselves never took part, either personally or directly”. Then at the end of the 1990s Habermas approached Derrida at a party held at a university in the United States where they were both lecturing. They then met at Paris over dinner, and afterwards have participated in many joint projects.
Wow, the champion of modernity making some peace here with the “other” side and seeing they could at least communicate and understand the other, even if they still disagreed over key points. Interestingly enough, I wonder why Habermas even engaged Derrida if postmodernism was of little threat, interest, or a passing fad. Hmmm, makes one wonder doesn’t it.
And then this as to his dialogue with Christians:
In early 2007, Ignatius Press published a dialogue between Habermas and Roman Catholic Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI]]), entitled “The Dialectics of Secularization.”
In this debate a recent shift of Habermas became evident — in particular, his rethinking of the public role of religion. Habermas writes as a “methodological atheist,” which means that when doing philosophy or social science, he presumes nothing about particular religious beliefs. Yet while writing from this perspective his evolving position towards the role of religion in society has led him to some challenging questions, and as a result conceding some ground in his dialogue with the Pope, that would seem to have consequences which further complicate the positions he holds about a communicative rational solution to the problems of modernity.
“In an interview in 1999 Habermas stated that,”
“For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk.”
Habermas now talks about the emergence of “post-secular societies” and argues that tolerance is a two-way street: secular people need to tolerate the role of religious people in the public square and vice versa.
Wow, what does this tell us about probably the most formidable living defender of the enlightenment project/modernity and about those whom have probably never read him but presume to defend the same? What does it mean for even Habermas to now acknowledge “post-secular” societies?
Wikipedia finishes with:
Habermas currently ranks as one of the most influential philosophers in the world.